Proper 22…Series A
Saint Andrew’s Episcopal Church (October 7th&8th, 2017)
Text: Matthew 21: 33-43
Title: The Illusion that IT’S OURS!!
Like the parable of the Laborers in the Vineyard (our Gospel reading for last weekend) you don’t need a seminary degree to understand the main message of the Parable of the Wicked Tenants (our Gospel for this 18th Sunday after the great feast of Pentecost). Clearly, Jesus is saying that the Jewish religious establishment (the scribes and Pharisees and the teachers of the Law) are like the wicked tenants in the parable…these religious leaders have been entrusted with stewardship of God’s vineyard and they have failed in their stewardship and now they are conspiring to silence and destroy the Son…the heir…the one who came to save them!
Now, even though the meaning of the parable is simple and almost obvious, there is one thing about the parable that I find puzzling (maybe you do as well) …one thing that I honestly don’t understand…one question which remains unanswered…Why do the wicked tenants believe that murdering the landowners’ son will result in their acquiring possession of the vineyard? What made those tenant farmers think that, by doing away with the Son, they would become legitimate heirs and, ultimately, owners of what didn’t belong to them? Were they just stupid…or is there something else going on in the story…something we 21st century listeners don’t completely understand?
The answer to this question may be puzzling to us…but, believe me, the Palestinian peasants who heard it for the first time, when Jesus told it back in the first century, the answer would have been obvious. It would have been obvious that the tenant farmers misunderstood the meaning of the arrival of the vineyard owner’s only Son…they misunderstood…they thought that Son’s arrival meant that his father (the owner of the vineyard) was actually dead. And if the Father is dead and they murder the Father’s only son (and only heir), then the vineyard could actually belong to them…WHY??…because, in Jesus’ day (according to the laws governing inheritance) “ownerless property” (and the vineyard would certainly qualify as “ownerless property” if the landowner and his only heir were both dead) “Ownerless property” could be inherited by anyone who had a legitimate claim (not just family members/blood relatives, but anyone), and those tenant farmers (who had worked the land for years) actually had a legitimate claim.to the vineyard!
My friends, we need to know and understand that the “center of gravity” of the Parable of the Wicked Tenants is the illusion of the death of the Landowner! It was the illusion of the landowner’s death that led the wicked tenants to abuse and murder the landowner’s only Son. It was the illusion of the landowner’s death that led to other
illusions…that the tenants were actually owners rather than employees…that the tenants were masters rather than servants…that the fruit of their labor belonged to them rather than to the vineyard owner. It was the illusion of the landowner’s death that led, ultimately to tragedy/heartache/misery/pain…it did in Jesus’ parable and it does in our lives and in our world even TODAY…(pause)
The great German philosopher and theologian of the 19th century, Frederik Nietzsche (whose enduring legacy is what theologians describe as the “God Is Dead Movement”) …Nietzsche gave expression to this illusion (the illusion of the death of the Vineyard owner) when he said, “God is Dead…now everything is possible”. If God is dead, then human beings are in charge…if God is dead…then the Vineyard belongs to us…if God is dead, then we can do whatever we want!
Friends the challenge for us in Jesus’ parable of the Wicked Tenants is the truth that we are the new tenants of God’s Vineyard (which is the church…the Body of Christ), and the question which insists on being asked and answered is this: “what kind of tenants are we willing and able to be?”. Will we succumb to the illusion that we are in charge…the illusion that we are owners rather than employees…the illusion that the vineyard actually belongs to us”. That is the challenge…
But here is the great Good News that we celebrate tonight/this morning…the great Good News embedded in Jesus’ parable: God is NOT dead…God is very much alive, and his Holy Word shatters the illusions which have the power to distort and, ultimately destroy our lives…the illusion that we are owners (not stewards) of the things we have…the things God has blessed us with…the illusion that money and the things money can buy, will bring peace and joy and will fill the gaping hole at the center of our lives…God is NOT dead…God is very much alive and His Word still has the power to set us free to be good and faithful tenants…tenants who understand who they are (and whose they are)…tenants, set free and empowered by the Word to be salt and light in a dark and unsavory world…tenants set free and empowered to “bear fruit worthy of repentance”…tenants set free and empowered to be a loving/faith-filled community a community which lays down its life…which gives it’s very life away for the sake of Christ and the Gospel of Grace and for the sake of the world that He loved and came to redeem and to save…
Friends, Nietzsche was wrong…God is NOT Dead…God is Very Much Alive…and God is counting on us to be good and faithful tenants joyfully laboring in His vineyard… Amen!